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UCA Rochester closure will lead to Medway suffering says fashion designer Dame Zandra Rhodes


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A leading fashion designer says she fears her hometown will "suffer" again under shock proposals to close a university campus.

Dame Zandra Rhodes, who is from Chatham and is an alumni and Chancellor Emirata of the University for Creative Arts, responded to the plans announced yesterday to close the Rochester campus.

Dame Zandra Rhodes talks about the closure proposals for UCA Rochester

Staff were informed during meetings about intentions to shut the 1970s campus which overlooks Rochester, Chatham and the River Medway in September 2023.

University bosses have not revealed the reasons but it is understood financial pressures are behind the closure proposals.

It is understood £18 million costs to carry out repairs to the Rochester campus and increased costs of running the site are the main reasons.

A source said some 150 staff will be affected and bosses told them possible "alternative sites" in Medway had been investigated but no further details were revealed due to discussions being "commercially confidential".

Zandra Rhodes is a former Chancellor of UCA and attended the Medway College for Design when she was a student. Pictured at the ceremony in 2010 naming her Chancellor. Picture: UCA
Zandra Rhodes is a former Chancellor of UCA and attended the Medway College for Design when she was a student. Pictured at the ceremony in 2010 naming her Chancellor. Picture: UCA

Dame Zandra attended the Medway College of Design, as it was known, in 1957 before going on to becoming one of Britain's leading fashion and textile designers and designing for Queen's Freddie Mercury and Brian May and also Princess Diana.

Speaking exclusively to KentOnline, she said: "It would be nice if they could stay in Rochester and cut down in their other branches.

"I was Chancellor a few years back and because I come from the Medway Towns it's sad knowing the effect.

"It's bad news on the City of Culture front but it would be nice if they could consolidate and consider whether to cut down on one of the other colleges.

"It's sad to think of that whole thing closing down and poor old Medway being the one that suffers."

Dame Zandra says she has also had a "soft spot" for the college which boasts the likes of Karen Millen OBE, Tracey Emin as alumni along with renowned jeweller Stephen Webster MBE and fashion designer Wendy Dagworthy.

"It's sad to think of that whole thing closing down and poor old Medway being the one that suffers..."

Mr Webster said: "Medway College of Design is where my brother and I started our jewellery journeys.

"My first step into the amazing jewellery and silversmithing workshops of the brutalist campus was the summer of 1976.

"Memorable for many reasons but for me only one, the start of the rest of my life.

"I only have fond and positive memories of my time on campus, for that reason very saddened to hear that the doors will close for good. The city will also miss the art students who always bring creativity and individuality to their surroundings.”

Dame Zandra said the college has a strong reputation among the arts and design industry.

"I couldn't have achieved what I did now if I hadn't been to that college," she added. "Before that my mother was a teacher there and taught Wendy Dagworthy so you've had various people been through Medway that can vouch what a good college it was.

Dame Zandra says she fears the Medway Towns will suffer again. Picture: Shine TV
Dame Zandra says she fears the Medway Towns will suffer again. Picture: Shine TV

"There are big names that have gone through UCA and it's a big part of my life that really led me to where I am."

She said the university should cut back courses at its other sites in order to keep the Rochester campus.

"I hope people will continue to come forward (to study) and Britain has wonderful art colleges," she added. "We lead the world in our colleges.

University for the Creative Arts, Rochester is set to close in 2023
University for the Creative Arts, Rochester is set to close in 2023

"Looking at the Medway Towns itself it would be nice if we could consider not being so badly hit.

"I will be on top of it and try to see and be in touch with people who teach there and see how they feel about it all."

Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett said the authority would be launching talks to keep the university in the Towns.

“We are very proud to be home to four universities in Medway and it is extremely disappointing to hear of this proposal from UCA," he said.

The view of the UCA building on Fort Pitt Hill in 2000 when it was still known as the Medway College of Art and part of the Kent Institute of Art and Design. Picture: Aerial Pictures of Medway
The view of the UCA building on Fort Pitt Hill in 2000 when it was still known as the Medway College of Art and part of the Kent Institute of Art and Design. Picture: Aerial Pictures of Medway

"We have indicated we would be happy to open up discussions with them to see if there are any other alternatives to closure to enable UCA to maintain a presence here in Medway.

“We are very proud of our amazing creative community in Medway which is going from strength to strength as we build our bid for UK City of Culture 2025 with the support of many local partners, of which UCA is one.

"There is a host of exciting events and activities being planned with a range of creative partners over the coming year and we look forward to working with UCA as part of this.”

Imogen Robertson, bid director for Medway 2025, added: “UCA in Rochester has been a valued partner in Medway’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025 and will continue to be as we prepare to submit our entry later this year.

"Medway’s creative community and student population play a significant role in our bid to be City of Culture.

"We are working with numerous education partners such as The University of Kent, University of Greenwich, Canterbury Christ Church University, MidKent College and local schools and education trusts to shape Medway’s entry in order to provide opportunities and benefits to young people as well as Medway’s communities, tourist economy and businesses.”

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here.

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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